12

I am a transwoman. I am in the closet. I am starting to transition so staying in the closet long-term isn't an option. Before I come out of the closet I would like to gauge how I think people are going to react to the news. Tailoring how I broach the subject to the individual, if done well, can make the whole process smoother for all of us.

For people I know well this is easy. I have a sense of how each one of my family members and close friends are going to react.

But how do you guess the reactions of people you are not close to, like my boss? It would be weird if I went to him tomorrow and said, "Hey, Good Morning. How was your weekend? By the way, what is your viewpoint on transgender people?" That seems exceedingly awkward and unproductive. We don't have idle chit-chat conversations. Clearly knowing how my boss might take it, however, can affect me deeply and may change how I approach it. I am in the U.S. in an at-will state so I could end up jobless over this.

I have not tried anything so far. I don't know how to drop the topic casually when we don't talk casually. We are a small company and I don't interact with them or anyone directly very often. I come in, exchange pleasantries, get my assignments for the day, and am off on my own. I then see them again at quitting time.

Is there anything I can do to find out?

  • 1
    Is there anyone in the company that you are friendly with that you could talk to about transgender people? They might have some insight into your boss' views. – DaveG Oct 12 at 19:46
  • @DaveG nope. Small company and I work alone. – AGirlHasNoName Oct 12 at 19:47
  • What exactly constitutes being trans-phobic, in your view? – EvilSnack Nov 5 at 3:20
6

I am, myself, part of several oppressed communities. This is how I tested the water at my own workplace. Be aware, though, that using these techniques can still be dangerous for you. You might end up being seen as the "social justice warrior coworker" with every good and bad connotation attached to it.

My advice could be broadly summarized as: suggest improvements to your company/company software that would improve inclusivity. Then, depending on the reaction you get, you will get an idea on how open-minded your boss/company is on the specific issue. This might, in turn, help you guess how open-minded your boss/company is likely to be regarding other inclusiveness issues.

Here is what I did myself:

  • We have a web application that, among others, asks clients if they are male or female. I tried to suggest adding a third "other" option or putting a "help" text near the male/female choice to clarify why we need the information (so that trans people could know if they can select whatever or if they risk having trouble if they didn't choose the one written on their identity card).

    Unfortunately, my suggestion didn't result in anything (apart for a very bad joke from one of my coworkers) and I didn't push it forward (because I felt it wasn't safe for me to do so).

  • I also suggested improvements that would help visually impaired and blind people navigate our website more easily. My manager thought that my suggestions were really great and we did implement some of them (it was a bit hard because some people on the dev team were... reluctant) but knowing that I had the support of my hierarchy for that was really nice.

  • I also talked to our "communication manager" person about improving the "toilet signs". I choose to talk to them because I trusted them deeply. I was right. This person was 100% supporting of my suggestion.

    However, they told me they had already made this same suggestion in the past and it didn't work. They also assured me that, since I was bringing that up, they would try to push for this suggestion again. Finally, they warned me that some people at our workplace weren't really open-minded and that I should be careful when talking about those subjects (because those people might say ugly things regarding this).

So, making all those suggestions (that were related to work), helped me get a better idea of how open-minded my workplace was. Finally, I felt safe enough to add my chosen-name next to my given-name in all of my communication (Slack, Gitlab, etc..). I'm still waiting, but if it continues to go well, I'm planning on switch "Given-name Chosen-name" into "Chosen-name Given-name" and later remove my given-name completely.

Note that I'm non-binary and I haven't tried to talk about myself in a non-gendered way yet (I'm French and the official grammar rules make it mostly impossible to not talk in a gendered way). So, I can't give you feedback about that (yet).

11

“How is your viewpoint on transgender people” will create quite an awkward situation because most people don’t have any viewpoint on the matter. It’s not important to them. It’s important to you, for obvious reasons, but not to most people.

My boss had an employee who came out as a transgender woman, and his reaction was: So what? That was actually the reaction of more than 90% of the employees as well. They didn’t really have a viewpoint, it just wasn’t important to them.

I think few people are specifically anti-transgender. There are people who are anti-lots if things. If your boss is say anti-Hindu and anti-Mexican then there’s a good chance he or she is anti-more things. If you haven’t heard your boss making nasty comments about any minority then it is not very likely he is anti-transgender. So if you correctly judge whether or not he or she is a decent person, you should be fine.

On the other hand, if your boss has indicated that he has problems with some minorities then there is a good chance that both coming out and asking about his viewpoint will have the same negative consequences for you.

Summary: If you think your boss is a decent person, come out. If not: Tread carefully.

PS. Going out after work for a beer with an obviously transgender woman in our middle as part of the group was interesting. She was one of us, who might need protection (because sometimes you do run into idiots), and that protection would have been there because she was one of us.

PS. Talking about a friend of yours who just came out, totally to your surprise, at another company obviously, might get you some hints. Depending on the feedback you get, take into account that some people don’t always act in an adult way. If the reaction is hostility, take it seriously. If the reaction is laughter, it will likely be better in a real situation.

PS. You have the very reasonable wish to (a) come out and (b) not to lose your job. Took me ages to realise that you can at least reduce the risk by first checking your chances of finding a job elsewhere if things go bad. (My assumption here was that you still look male, so if you tell your boss you want to transition and get fired for that - which I say should never happen - you could still get a job elsewhere as a male; far from perfect but better than jobless. )

PS. I figured out why I really felt that asking your boss about his viewpoint is a bad idea. Your boss really wants an easy life with no distraction from his business. If you come out as transgender from his business point of view very little to nothing changes. But if you want to know about transgender rights, that’s a distraction without any business value, so he won’t like that.

  • 1
    First, your suggestion to measure their overall intolerance level is a good one, however I don't feel like I know them well enough to judge that at all. They have not been brazenly bigoted with me but that just means they have enough tact not to be a bigot in front of a subordinate they barely know. It might be the fear speaking but I don't think my culture is 90% unconcerned. – AGirlHasNoName Oct 12 at 23:03
  • @AGirlNamedAndara I see your post was tagged "United-States". United-States is a big place with lots of variations... My experience was in London, UK, where things are probably easier than in some places in the USA. – gnasher729 Oct 15 at 19:51
  • About your third P.S. How do I check that? I mean I had a guage on that before, but any guess on how hireable I am after I am more openly trans would only be a guess. And my conservative guess and my generous guess vary widely meaning I have no idea. – AGirlHasNoName Oct 19 at 0:18
  • "If your boss is say anti-Hindu and anti-Mexican then there’s a good chance he or she is anti-more things." I get what you're trying to say but I wouldn't lump all intolerances together like that, and most definitely not when you use it as a basis for making assumptions about someone else's opinion. – Flater Oct 23 at 11:23
1

I know from experience that coming out at work is hard to do. While I'm not trans myself, I was married to a trans person, and have lived with and dated a few trans folks over the years.

At this point in US history, it can be particularly hard being trans. There's an awful lot of spotlight on trans rights issues and while in some instances that's really helpful, it also adds attention that may make things uncomfortable for those who would rather fly under the radar as much as possible.

That's largely how I guaged how my coming out would go at my workplace. I listened to my coworkers discuss LGBT issues at the water cooler, and lunch table, when these things would hit national news.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how the Supreme Court rules... There's a couple landmark cases concerning LGBT workplace protections on the docket.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R.G._%26_G.R._Harris_Funeral_Homes_Inc._v._Equal_Employment_Opportunity_Commission

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bostock_v._Clayton_County,_Georgia

So...

You could wait for a ruling, and fingers crossed they'll do the right thing, and this won't be as big an issue for much longer. Or you could listen for talk of these cases in your workplace. Or if you're bold enough, you could start a conversation about these cases yourself.

Personally, I'd wait and listen. Pretty much what I did with my own coming out. Back then the scuttlebutt was about state bathroom bills... It didn't take long for most folks to share an opinion.

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